Seamus Heaney's 11th collection of poems, Electric Light
, continues his excavation of childhood, his vivifying love of nature, and his quest into the meaning of poetry itself in an utterly pleasurable and satisfying way. As the poet squares up to his own mortality, many of the poems are dedicated to the memory of lost friends and poets like Joseph Brodsky
. Yet the urgency and optimism of new birth is a lively presence in the book too. "Bann Valley Eclogue," for example, prophesizes a time when "old markings / Will avail no more to keep east bank from west. / The valley will be washed like the new baby." And in "Out of the Bag," the child narrator believes that newborns emerge from the doctor's bag--or, in one hallucinatory moment, from the washbasin: "The baby bits all come together swimming / Into his soapy big hygienic hands."
Childhood is an unfading, unfailing element in Heaney's work, and is caught with a breathless vitality. "The Real Names" revisits the schoolboys who played Shakespeare: Owen Kelly as "Sperrins Caliban" with "turnip fists," and "Catatonic Bobby X" as Feste, "with his curled-in shoulders and cabbage-water eyes / speechlessly rocking." Here is the humor, exactness, scope, and tenderness of Heaney at his best. His language is as muscular and inventive as ever. Idiom meets innovation in compounds like rut-shuddery and flood-slubs--and waver is neatly subverted into a noun in "Perch." Throughout Electric Light, Heaney demonstrates exactly how poetry can capture the "flows and steady go of the world." --Cherry Smyth
From Publishers Weekly
Fluent, enjoyable and often masterful, this 11th book of verse from the Irish Nobel Laureate splits neatly in two. The first, larger and more varied half of the volume gathers translations and adaptations, occasional and celebratory poems, and verse about travel in Ireland's gaeltacht (Irish-speaking rural areas), as well as in the Balkans and Greece. Hints of the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf (which Heaney recently translated) play second fiddle here to the eclogues of Virgil and to celebrations of childbirth, which Heaney has made one of his specialties. Some of the strongest poems recall Heaney's own childhood in the 1950s. Part two of the book consists entirely of elegies: some commemorate poets (Ted Hughes, Joseph Brodsky, Zbigniew Herbert) and comment on those poets' works, while others remember relatives and friends Heaney's dying father, for example, or (in the title poem) a whispering grandmother, "with her fur-lined felt zippers unzipped." In both sections Heaney sticks largely to the evocative pentameters of his 1990s books, with rhythms suited to represent "the everything flows and steady go of the world" a stream of joyful memories, alloyed but not overwhelmed by grief. Heaney's new volume is far from being his strongest, or strangest, or most demanding book: it's well crafted, but feels like a fortuitous culling rather than a fully realized project.
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